Sunday at Ford Field, Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will match wits once again.
Patricia was the defensive coordinator in New England from 2012-17. McDaniels has run the Patriots' offense since 2012. There were probably some pretty good battles throughout the offseason and in training camp between Patricia's defense and McDaniels' offense over the years.
"Josh and I are really close," Patricia said Wednesday. "Josh and I worked together for a long time from the moment I arrived in New England. He and I were on the offensive side of the ball together (in 2004-05) really trying to figure a lot of things out, he as a young position coach, myself as a quality control coach.
"I think the two of us leaned on each other quite a bit, helped each other out a lot as young coaches and developing into wherever we are right now. So, utmost respect for him."
When opposing coaches know as much about each other and their schemes and their likes and dislikes as Patricia and McDaniels do, the difference Sunday is really going to come down to execution and playing fundamentally sound football.
"It is a fun challenge," McDaniels told masslive.com. "Matt's been a great friend of mine for a long time. He's extremely talented as a coach.
"He's always been very difficult to coach against when he was here. He does a lot of different things that challenge you schematically. He'll keep you off balance. There's definitely an element of spinning the wheel with Matt that you're really going to have to do a great job of being alert and aware and doing a great job of communicating during the course of the game, and there's no question that you're going to have to make some adjustments."
Sometimes the difficult thing about knowing an opponent so well is resisting the urge to overload players with too much info, almost "paralyzing" them with info, as Patricia termed it. It's something Patricia said he's tried to be conscious of this week.
McDaniels said the same thing to Boston reporters about not overloading his players on offense.
The Patriots are coming off an 11-point loss in Jacksonville in which they didn't play particularly well offensively. The Lions are coming off a close loss in San Francisco where their defense allowed 190 rushing yards to the 49ers.
It's two units both needing a bounce-back performance Sunday at a critical point for both clubs early in the season.
New England enters Sunday night's game 20th in total offense (345.5) and 13th in scoring (23.5). Detroit's defense enters the contest 16th in total defense (347.5) and 31st in points allowed (39.0).
"We know there will be a lot of energy there, and Matt will make it challenging every step of the way," McDaniels said. "So, excited to have the opportunity to compete against him and his team. They've got a good group, they're going to play better and better every single week, which is what they've been doing, and it'll be a big challenge for us on Sunday night."
Meet this weeks opponents, the New England Patriots.
Veteran cornerback DeShawn Shead returns to the Lions after originally signing with the club as an unrestricted free agent during the 2018 offseason. He was part of Detroit's 53-man roster trim at the end of camp.
The Lions are currently missing All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay, who suffered a concussion in the loss to San Francisco Sunday, and wasn't at practice Wednesday. His availability for Sunday's game vs. the Patriots remains in doubt.
Shead is obviously familiar with Detroit's defensive schemes, and should hit the ground running this week.
While he offers the Lions a backup plan for Slay, he could potentially push Nevin Lawson or Teez Tabor for playing time as well.
After two weeks, Lawson is graded 76th out of 103 qualifying cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus and Tabor is 98th. Opposing passers have a 130.2 passer rating when throwing Lawson's way and 158.3 rating throwing on Tabor.
Prior to Detroit, Shead spent six seasons (2012-17) with the Seattle Seahawks and has 54 career games (22 starts) under his belt.
638 DAY COUNT
To say Lions second-year tight end Michael Roberts was eagerly awaiting his first NFL touchdown would be a bit of an understatement.
"638 days," Roberts said Wednesday of the number of days between his last score in college at Toledo and Sunday's 15-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter in San Francisco, his first touchdown in the NFL.
"Last time I scored was Dec. 17 of 2016, so it meant the most," Roberts said with quick recollection.
The Lions drafted Roberts in the fourth round last season to eventually be a weapon for their passing game. He caught just four passes as a rookie.
Entering his second season, Roberts wanted to prove he could be a playmaker. Sunday's athletic touchdown catch is a good start.
"It's something I do in practice pretty often, so it's nice to be able to show the world the talents I have," Roberts said.
"Kind of a weight lifted, I would say. Really just a moment I dreamed about."
Roberts expects to be a good weapon for this Lions' offense in the red zone, and said it was good to show he could make a play in that area of the field and in a crucial point in that game.
"Red zone is my game, I love it," Roberts said.